To avoid if unlawfully present
This is not an exhaustive list of the things an unlawfully present immigrant can do to make his/her case worse. But these are some of the more common ways immigration attorneys see immigrants complicate their cases.
The only people you should be paying to assist in your immigration case are licensed attorneys and accredited representatives. An accredited representative is only authorized to work at a nonprofit agency and is required to be approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which maintains a list, found here. To make sure an attorney is licensed, contact the State Bar where the attorney practices or indicates that he/she is licensed. You can find the State Bar by doing an internet search on "State Bar of Texas" or whatever the state is. Many states allow you to check online to be sure someone is licensed, but some require that you call.
It is illegal for someone who is not a licensed attorney or accredited representative to charge you more than a few dollars to help you fill out immigration forms. And by "a few dollars", I mean ten or twenty. Some immigrants from Latin America mistakenly believe that a "notary public" in the United States is the same as a "notario publico" in Latin America. But they are not the same thing. In Latin America, a "notario publico" has legal training. In the United States, a "notary public" is authorized to witness signatures only and does not have any kind of license to perform legal work. Criminals known as "notarios" exploit the misunderstanding in the Latino community and illegally practice immigration law without a license. The problem is so rampant and public advertisements by "notarios" are so blatant that many immigration lawyers have accused local law enforcement agencies of complacency in prosecuting these "notarios".
Because "notarios" are engaging in criminal activity, they are obviously not being regulated. It is not uncommon for "notarios" to commit fraud on the alien's behalf without the alien's knowledge, to claim to have submitted applications that were never submitted, and to just generally screw up the alien's case. Even when a "notario" is not necessarily trying to swindle the applicant, he/she does not have enough expertise to tell a complex case from an easy one. A "notario" may get nine cases right before messing up the tenth one, so success with your friends' cases is not good enough proof that he/she knows enough to handle your case. While the lower prices offered by "notarios" may be tempting, do not trust your future to a criminal.
An arrest invariably complicates an immigration case. The damage to the case depends on the exact nature of the arrest and of course whether there is any conviction. But even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can potentially have serious ramifications. If you are unlawfully present, an arrest for a criminal offense can lead to an "ICE Hold", in which you are held in a local jail pending review of your immigration status and possibly until immigration authorities - in this case, ICE - can come pick you up and take you to an immigration detention facility. Also, if you are arrested it will cause delays in anything else you are trying to accomplish with your immigration case. You immigration case may be held in abeyance pending the conclusion of your criminal case. And if you leave the country before your criminal case is resolved, you might not be permitted to re-enter until the criminal case is resolved. But usually one cannot resolve a criminal case unless one appears in person in criminal court, leading to a proverbial 'Catch-22' where you are unable to resolve either your immigration case or your immigration case. Just stay out of trouble and don't get arrested.
If you don't have a driver's license, I recommend you not drive. If you choose to ignore this advice and drive anyway, at least violate the fewest number of laws possible. Get car insurance where permitted by law. Keep your registration and inspection current. Don't speed. Don't drink and drive. Don't run red lights or stop signs. State laws are changing and getting pulled over for a traffic violation is increasingly becoming an opportunity for the police to check your immigration status. Also, if you have an opportunity to legalize, traffic tickets can be considered a negative factor in your case. Take traffic laws seriously.
- Leaving and returning
If you are unlawfully present speak to an attorney before departing the country, especially if you plan to return. One of the worst things an unlawfully present immigrant can do to his case is to depart the country and return without inspection. In doing so, he/she may trigger a section of law known as "9C" which would prevent him/her from applying for a waiver of inadmissibility for ten years from the date of next departure.
- False claim of US citizenship
There is no waiver for someone who makes a false claim of US citizenship for entry into the US, an immigration benefit, a driver's license, student loans, welfare/Medicaid/food stamps, etc. If you are found to have made such a claim, your options for legalization become severely limited or possibly nullified. Not all fraud is the same and this particular type of fraud is treated extremely harshly under immigration law.
There is no waiver for any drug offense except simple possession of marijuana less than 30 grams. If you get caught with any other type of drug or more than 30 grams of marijuana, there will be very little your attorney can do.
- Failing to attend a removal hearing
Never skip a removal/deportation hearing altogether. If you do, it will be nearly impossible to get it re-opened, which will prevent nearly all types of relief from within the US and if you proceed abroad, you will be banned from applying for a waiver for five years from your date of departure. Even if you have no relief available, talk to an attorney and attend your hearing.